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Are lever-action rifles a sensible choice for self defense?

Are lever-action rifles a sensible choice for self defense?

Posted by Adam Devine, CEO, Ranger Point Precision on Mar 11th 2021

Lever Guns: An Sensible choice for Self Defense?

What firearm to choose for self defense?

What firearm to choose for self defense? It’s an old conversation, but one worth renewing, because right now lawless, violent behavior is on the rise in our country, and in some cases going unchecked. Right now there are people considering this question for the first time, people who might never have considered armed defense before. In light of the current climate, are lever guns a sensible choice for self defense? Our answer is an emphatic yes.

Points to consider when thinking of using firearms

There are certain realities we have to consider when we think about using armed, lethal force. One is that firearms, despite their 2A Second Amendment protection in the United States of America, exist in a highly politicized sphere. This is particularly true of some weapons with military lineage, like the AR-15. There are a growing number of places where these types of weapons simply aren’t a legal option.

Another consideration is cartridge suitability as it pertains to both stopping power and collateral damage, the latter being highly undesirable. Not all cartridges are created equal. Before we even consider what platform to use, we need to understand what types of cartridges are suitable for self defense. Ideally, our chosen ammunition stops the threat, and only the threat, quickly.

Inside the home, this is paramount, as collateral damage could be a family member. Outside the house, collateral damage could be a neighbor, or even some fool holding up a smartphone behind an angry mob. No matter how chaotic the situation, collateral damage will not be ignored by the courts. More importantly, it won’t be ignored by your conscience.

Why Lever guns are an excellent alternative to AR - 15

In light of the first consideration, lever guns are an excellent alternative to an AR-15. Despite being the original bad boy “assault rifle” back in Civil War days, lever guns have pretty much flown under the political radar over the last century. Lucky for us. Even some who are allowed to own AR-15s may choose not to because of social stigmas. Lever guns offer a relatively high rate of fire compared to other manual actions, not to mention relatively large magazine capacities. Even California does not currently place restrictions on tube fed lever gun capacities.

As to ammunition suitability, lever guns offer some choice cartridges. Inside the home, or in densely populated areas, the revolver magnums offer exceptional performance in a short carbine like the Marlin 1894 or Henry Big Boy or Rossi '92 or Winchester '94. The .357 mag can handily beat an M4 style carbine in energy delivery, while the .44 mag can deliver over four times the energy of a typical 9mm Luger handgun. With light-for-caliber bullet choices, both magnums can exceed 2000fps in a carbine barrel, with minimal over-penetration and effective range, compared to common rifle rounds. A relative newcomer chambered in Henry Big Boys, the .327 Federal is also a good choice.

For Maneuverability indoors and in close spaces

Another great benefit of revolver cartridges is their relatively short length compared to rifle cartridges, which means easier carry and higher capacity in tube magazines. This is particularly helpful in the case of shorter 16" carbine rifles, which are preferable for their maneuverability indoors and in close spaces. We can hope that a defensive encounter won’t require more than one shot or two, but who knows? Unless you are quite practiced, it’s best to avoid the need for a mid-fight reload. Fine motor skills go to hell under duress.

Different Microgroove barrel specifications

For the common centerfire calibers, the initial specifications (circa 1956) for Microgroove barrels were as follows:

.22 centerfire -- 16 grooves, .015" wide, .001" deep

.30 caliber -- 16 grooves, .030" wide and .002" deep (this would be changed in 1958 to 22 grooves .024" wide, and .002" deep; and then again in 1968 to 12 grooves, .040" wide, .0028" deep)

.32 caliber -- 16 grooves, .035" wide, and .0015" deep

.35 caliber -- 16 grooves, .040" wide, and .002" deep (this would be changed in 1968 to 12 grooves, .055" wide, .0028" deep)

Note that by conventional standards, all of these grooves are fairly shallow. Microgroove rifling makes up for this by having many lands/grooves to grip and spin the bullet.

For Outside the home hunting

Outside the home, particularly in rural areas where four legged predators at greater distances must also be considered, the storied .30-30 Winchester is ideal. With a wide range of excellent hunting bullets designed specifically for terminal performance, this modest round can accomplish a great deal more than the almost mythic 7.62x39/AK-47.

When 45-70 govt is a poor choice?

As we move up the bore diameter scale, lever gun cartridges (excepting pistol caliber revolver rounds) become less well suited to home defense, unless you live in an area where large, dangerous game poses a threat. Where human predators are concerned, the fearsome .45-70 govt. is a poor choice. Its heavy bullets drastically increase the risk of over penetration and collateral damage without improving your fight-stopping odds compared to the .44 mag. Additionally, it’s heavy recoil makes it slow to reacquire your target and quite punishing to practice with. The same detractions apply to the .444 Marlin cartridge, and, to a lesser degree, the medium bore .35 Rem.

Final Thoughts

Speaking of practice, one should as often as possible. Practice improves your skills and confidence immeasurably, while also allowing you to catch any reliability issues with your chosen firearm and ammunition. Learn good technique, know your equipment, and equally important, know your mind. Your mental state will be a deciding factor in the heat of the moment. Guardianship requires that certain decisions be made in advance.

If you, as a guardian, decide that a lever gun will be your weapon of choice, the good news is that you have some excellent options on the market. Lever guns have experienced a resurgence in popularity. The technology is old, but proven, practical, and intuitive. Newer models have introduced more modern features to the genre, and aftermarket upgrades are readily available for many. Lever guns are a long way from outliving their usefulness.